With training camp right around the corner (typing with smile on my face), it’s hard for me not to think about my own expectations for the Chiefs. And many of my expectations are entwined with the Chiefs running game.
The Chiefs have been known as a running team for the better part of the decade. First came Priest Holmes, then Larry Johnson inherited the backfield. In 2009, after Johnson was released, Jamaal Charles started emerging as a star, and became a full-fledged one the next season. 2011 was a dropoff, due to the injury of Charles and the decline of Thomas Jones, but 2012 looks to put the Chiefs back in the rightful place among the league’s best rushing teams.
In 2010, the Chiefs had the #1 rushing attack in the NFL. In 2012, I, like many of my peers, fully expect the Chiefs to revert back to the form of old, and a big reason will be the free agent addition of Peyton Hillis. But are my expectations warranted? Let’s examine some numbers:
In 2010, the Chiefs ran the ball 521 times (not including QB runs/scrambles) for 2,497 yards. To put that into comparison, the 2011 Broncos, who ran the option from sun up to sun down, ran 541 times for 2,615 yards (not including Kyle Orton’s 5 scrambles). In 2011, mainly because of the loss of Charles, the Chiefs only ran the ball 450 times for 1,786 yards (once again, not including the QB runs or that one attempt Colquitt was credited with for -3 yards). From 2010 to 2011, there was a 711 rushing yard drop off.
With Charles back, I expect the number of rushing yards to increase, but perhaps not the attempts. The reason I am thinking this is because of the Chiefs’ new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll. Let’s look at the last three offenses Daboll has coached:
2009 Browns: 468 rushing attempts, 1,981 yards, 4.2 ypc
2010 Browns: 370 rushing attempts, 1,503 yards, 4.1 ypc
2011 Dolphins: 420 rushing attempts, 1,809 yards, 4.3 ypc
Looking at these statistics, it’s clear that Daboll features a more balanced attack than the Chiefs have run over the last few seasons, only rushing for more than 450 attempts once as an offensive coordinator.
So, for a second, let’s assume that 420 carries is what the Chiefs backfield will receive next season. I think a fair allocation for the carries will be:
Charles: 200 carries
Hillis: 160 carries
McCluster: 30 carries
Others: 30 carries
This might seem like a incredibly small number of runs for both Charles and Hillis, but the 420 total carries is based off the average of rushing attempts of Daboll’s offenses from 2009-2011 (which came out at 419.3 rushing attempts per season). While I hope the number will be higher than this, I’m just looking at the tendencies of Daboll.
Using these carry distributions, here are what the rushing seasons of each runner could look like:
Charles: 1,280 yards (using 2010 ypc average) / 1,220 yards (using career ypc average)
Hillis: 704 yards (2010 ypc) / 576 yards (2011 ypc) / 672 yards (career ypc)
McCluster: 117 yards (2010 ypc) / 135 yards (2011 ypc) / 132 yards (career ypc)
Others: 120 yards (using an average of 4.0 ypc*)
*It’s tough to determine what the yards per carry average for ‘others’ would be. These can include a small 1 yard carry by a full back to a 12 yard end around run by a wide receiver. I chose 4.0 ypc using my own discretion.
So, using the very conservative approach of 420 rushing attempts for the Chiefs in 2012, the Chiefs should be looking anywhere between 2,033 and 2,239 yards. This is still a large increase compared to that of 2011, and the reason appears to be Jamaal Charles. Barring injury, it would be crazy not to think that Charles can reach the 1,000 yard rushing plateau. The key to Chiefs rushing dominance, however, is Peyton Hillis.
If Hillis can return to 2010 form, in which he averaged 4.4 ypc, he will force Daboll to run the ball more, which in turn will hopefully get the run total above 500, and could put the Chiefs to near 2,750 rush yards (assuming 225 carries each for Charles and Hillis). This would be the best-case scenario, but one that could be achieved.
I know that Daboll has already come out and said he wants to run a balanced attack in Kansas City. And I know the Chiefs have a lot of money invested in the wide receiver position between Dwayne Bowe, Jonathan Baldwin, and Steve Breaston. If the Chiefs can run an effective offense using both running and passing, then so be it. But if Matt Cassel struggles, and we have to resort back to running, then we are reverting back to a heck of a strength.
A strength that could carry us pretty far.